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Can Detox Diets Be Done Right?

As my HealthyBuzz theme for August revolves around trends in food, health, and fitness, I’ve been asked to write about detox diets. Right on spot. Detox diets are predicted by Mintel firm to be one of the hottest health trends for 2010.

While the term “detox” originally referred to the lemon diet–the Master Cleanse promoted by Beyonce, detox today can mean anything from such extreme plans, to water diets, to  juice diets, to diets based on “clean” wholesome food; nothing processed, no sugar, and no alcohol.

Nutritionist and health professionals are on both sides of the issue. For some, there’s no place for detox diets in their practices since there’s no research done to prove their efficiency or safety. Plus, unless you have liver problems, your liver is a power house for detoxifying drugs, chemicals, alcohol, and other toxins.

Others dietitians and health professionals, while still believing in your liver’s ability to detox, see some merits to detox diets, with conditions.

I don’t have a practice where I counsel patients, and I have not personally tried to “detox” in any form. But, I’m open minded to trying as long as I stick to these conditions.

The detox diet to consist of wholesome foods, free from pesticides, preservatives, color agents, artificial flavors, sugar, salt, and alcohol.

And the only way to do that is to make your own food or find products that truly do not contain any “weird” ingredients. Buy organic (at least the Dirty Dozen), choose whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, avoid canned and packaged foods, avoid sugars (all types), limit salt, and eliminate alcohol. The diet will be rich in fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins. When the liver detoxifies chemicals, it has to do a series of chemical reactions that require co-factors (aka, vitamins) to proceed. If your diet is devoid of these vitamins, the reactions will stall.

The detox diet to provide calories.

Which means, no room for water or juice diets. And definitely not the master cleanse. If you want your liver to work, you need to supply it with energy or else you will start wasting your muscles. I can’t tell you how many calories since we all have different needs, but at least will stick to the minimum: no less than 1,200 calories a day.

The detox diet to not include laxatives, enemas, or supplements.

How are you going to detox your body from chemicals if you take in other chemicals? Plus, laxatives and enemas can cause dehydration and imbalance in electrolytes, which can be serious. Really serious.

The detox diet to provide plenty of water.

Do I need to justify that?

The detox diet to be practiced short-term and then followed by a healthy diet that you can live on for the rest of your life.

The detox diet is a short term plan, and not something to do the rest of your life. But, once done, you still need to eat healthy wholesome foods. Go back to your old habits, and you would’ve just wasted 5 days of your life. Dietitians who use detox diets in their weight loss counseling see it as a jump-start period. It’s an opportunity for you to abandon old habits, look at your diet and life from a different perspective, and get motivated for the new you. They admit that the initial weight loss is mostly water. It might motivate you to start your healthy lifestyle changes towards losing weight, but that 5-day period by itself won’t make the extra weight go away.

The detox diet might not solve all problems.

Even after eliminating chemicals, preservative, coloring agents, and so on, there might be something else going against your body. Symptoms like bloating, lethargy, fatigue, allergies, rashes, etc can be caused by the above chemicals but also from “natural” food components such as gluten, lactose, or fructose and infections from bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungus. To know the specific chemicals that are causing your symptoms, you need to follow an elimination diet or follow a LEAP plan. Many registered dietitians offer this treatment/service in their practices.

Disclaimer:

This is not a recommendation for anyone to do a detox diet. Consult with a physician or registered dietitian before you go on such a plan, especially if you have a medical condition that needs close follow up.

If you want to know more about detox diets, read these articles:

Spring Cleansing: Assessing the Benefits and Risks of Detox Diets

Detox, a safer approach

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Alysa Bajenaru, RD, CPT August 23, 2010, 4:39 pm

    Thank you for writing about this. Many people ask me about detox diets. I like your stance.

  • zeina shennak August 24, 2010, 4:41 am

    very interesting topic,many thanks!

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD August 24, 2010, 2:38 pm

    Thank you Alysa. For you and other RDs who want to learn more, I forgot to mention this in the post. The DIFM DPG (Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine) offer an educational CD on this topic from FNCE 2009. Here’s the link to buy it: http://www.integrativerd.org/site.cfm?page=2008_fnce_cd_workshops

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD August 24, 2010, 2:39 pm

    Thank you Zeina for the comment!

  • Nicole, RD August 25, 2010, 7:09 am

    Interesting to see it from both sides, great job!

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